Courtney Kruger, prisoner of war in Japan, dies in Utah at 91
The Salt Lake Tribune - By Nate Carlisle
First Published Aug 01 2014 02:16 pm
Courtney Kruger, a U.S. soldier who was captured by the Japanese and then spent 3 1/2 years suffering as a prisoner, died Tuesday at the veterans hospital in Salt Lake City. He was 91.
Kruger’s daughter, Connie M. Wright, said her father suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, caused by damage to lung tissue. Wright said when doctors recently took X-rays of her father’s lungs, they found severe scarring she assumes came from working in an acid plant while he was a POW in Japan.
Kruger was a 19-year-old radio operator and private assigned to a B-17 in the U.S. Army Air Corps when, the day after they attacked Pearl Harbor, the Japanese began attacking U.S. positions in the Philippines. Kruger’s B-17 at Clark Field was destroyed. He was reassigned to an infantry unit on the island of Mindanao.
According to a history Kruger provided to his family, Kruger helped evacuate Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon in March of 1942. But by May, the remaining Americans were lightly armed, besieged by Japanese troops and forced to hide in the jungle. Under orders by their commanding officer to do so, Kruger and his comrades surrendered on May 10.
Kruger remained in a prison on Mindanao. While there, he survived dengue fever, according to an account he gave the University of Utah in 2004. He picked bananas and cultivated rice, but almost all that food went to the Japanese. He told the university he was given 750 grams of rice a day and boiled weeds to make soup. Meanwhile, some of his fellow prisoners were murdered at random, Kruger said.
In June of 1944, Kruger and other prisoners were marched through the jungle to a ship that took them to Manila. The next month, Kruger and about 1,000 prisoners were placed aboard another ship called the ‘Canadian Inventor’.
It was one of the infamous Japanese "Hellships" that carried POWs crammed into cargo holds with no ventilation or sanitation, and little food or water. Kruger told his family of passing the dead to the front so they could be removed from the hold.
In September, the ship arrived at the port of Moji in Japan. Kruger was sent to work as slave labor at a sulfuric acid plant in Toyama.
He again developed an illness, but his comrades, including a captured doctor, nursed him through with help from a Red Cross packet that included B1 vitamins. His weight dropped to 65 pounds.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military was carpet bombing Japan. One attack on Toyama reportedly killed 10,000 people, but missed Kruger and his fellow POWs.